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The elderly are especially at risk because of the way the immune system ages

Excess activity of the immune system in adults causes it to damage the body when fighting the virus. The number of immune system cells increases over the years

By: Steven D. Munger, Director of the Center for Smell and Taste; Co-Director, UF Health Olfactory Disorders Program; Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of Florida Jeb Justice, Associate Professor, Department of Craniofacial Surgery, Co-Director of the Olfactory Disorders Program at University of Florida. Translation: Dafna Raviv

The coronavirus affects older people at greater rates. Illustration: Image by Tumisu from Pixabay
The coronavirus affects older people at greater rates. Illustration: Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

The rapidly spreading corona epidemic takes a particularly high toll on older people. Data from the outbreaks in China and Italy show that the infected people under the age of 60 are at a relatively low risk - although not without risk at all - of dying from corona. More recent data from the US suggests that a higher percentage of people in their 30s and XNUMXs experience serious illness and even death than previously thought. Surprisingly, it seems young children are not in increased danger from serious complications of the corona, unlike what happens with other viruses, such as the seasonal flu.

(After the appearance of the original article, it was reported on March 26.3.2020, 16 about the death of a 21-year-old high school student in France, and about a XNUMX-year-old young woman with no underlying illnesses who died in Britain. AB)

However, the statistics become more pessimistic the older the patient is. While a patient in his sixties has a 0.4% chance of dying, the chance increases for patients in their seventies to 1.3% of dying from the disease and patients over the age of 80 have a 3.6% chance of dying. Although it may not seem like a high chance of dying, during the outbreak in Italy 83% of those who succumbed to the coronavirus were over 60 years old.

The SARS-CoV-2 corona virus, which causes COVID-19, is therefore a very serious disease in people over the age of 60. As the corona virus continues to spread, this older age group will continue to be at risk for serious illness and death.

What makes older people at high risk from such viruses? This is mainly because of the changes that occur in the human immune system as we age.

The body's tools to fight viral infection

During life, the body is constantly bombarded by pathogens (causing diseases) - bacteria, fungi and viruses that can make you sick. The human body is an excellent place for these organisms to grow and thrive, in the warm and nutritious environment that the body provides for them.

And this is where the immune system comes into play. This is the body's defense system against these types of invaders. Even before birth, the body began to produce specialized cells - B cells and T cells - types of white blood cells that can identify pathogens and help block their reproduction.

During the disease, the B cells can multiply rapidly and produce antibodies that block the pathogens and their ability to spread in the body. T cells work by recognizing infected cells and killing them. Together they create what scientists call the "adaptive" immune system.

The doctor may have checked the level of white blood cells. This is a measure of whether you have more B and T cells than usual - probably because your body is fighting an infection.

At a very young age, the body does not have many of these B cells or T cells. Trying to control the infection may challenge the body, simply because it is not used to this task. As a person ages, their adaptive immune system learns to recognize the pathogens and allows their body to fight the infection quickly and effectively.

While white blood cells are powerful defenders, they are not enough on their own. Fortunately, l's immune system has another layer - called innate immunity. Each cell has its own limited immune system which allows it to respond directly to pathogens faster than the time required to activate the acquired immune system.

The innate immune system is designed to be primed to recognize types of molecules found on bacteria and viruses but not in human cells. When the cell detects the viral infection, it catalyzes the production of an anti-viral protein, interferon - a protein that limits the inflammation by accelerating the death of the infected cell.

Another kind of cell belonging toimmune system, called a monocyte, functions as a kind of cellular gatekeeper, getting rid of any damaged cells it finds and signaling the adaptive immune system to kick in.

The adaptive immune system and the innate immune system can work together as a synchronized machine to detect and eliminate pathogens.

Older immune systems are weaker

When a pathogen attacks, the difference between disease and health is the race between the spread of the pathogen and the speed with which the immune system responds, without causing secondary damage to the body.

As people age, the balance between the innate immune system and the acquired immune system changes.

Monocytes of old people produce less interferon in response to viral infection. It is more difficult for them to destroy infected cells and signal the acquired immune system to go into action.

Chronic low-grade inflammation common in the aging process may also obscure the ability of the innate and acquired immune responses to respond to pathogens. It is similar to the phenomenon that you get used to an annoying voice over time.

As a person ages, the "concentration capacity" of their immune systems makes it harder for the body to respond to a viral infection, which gives the virus an advantage. Viruses can get the better of your slow-starting immune system, quickly overwhelm your body and cause serious illness and death.

Social distancing is essential

all of us, At any age, we need to protect ourselves from infection. Not only to keep ourselves healthy but also to help protect the most vulnerable. Given the difficulty older people have in controlling a viral infection, the best chance is to avoid contracting the virus in the first place.

The importance of hand washing, avoiding face contact, self-isolation and social distancing become especially important regarding the corona virus.

Corona is caused by a virus in the respiratory tract and it spreads through tiny fragments that contain a virus. Larger shards immediately fall to the ground, tiny droplets dry immediately but medium sized shards are the most worrisome as they can float in the air for a distance before drying. These fragments may be inhaled into the lungs.

Keeping a distance of two meters from another person helps to reduce the risk of being infected by these fragments considerably. But there is still a chance for the virus to contaminate surfaces - those that patients have touched or coughed on. Therefore, the best way to protect vulnerable adults and the immunocompromised is to stay away from them until the danger has passed. By doing this we will stop the spread of the epidemic in the population and help protect those whose immune systems have a harder time dealing with infections.

We would be happy to help with translations on a voluntary basis. Please contact the website editor

  • This article has been updated to clarify that people of any age can get coronavirus

More of the topic in Hayadan:

2 תגובות

  1. Nursing homes are actually fattening homes for the elderly and milking parlors for cash from the elderly and their families. The tenants in these places are misled by greedy Israeli oligarchs, who only care about money, money, and more money. The medical staff are mostly Soviets who do not understand and are barely able to speak Hebrew, and the therapists are alak (so that we don't know of troubles), cruel fate-stricken people who are jealous of the tenants, sullen new immigrants and alcoholics, and the worst of all are the wretched infiltrators, who are in fact upgraded Negro slaves, who are persecuted by the police The immigration and the employed in subhuman conditions. These staff members and "caretakers" are so disgruntled that they take out their anger on the tenants who pay with their best money. What wonder it is so easy for the bakery of the invisible corona viruses to strangle the veterans of our country and this is just the beginning...

  2. However, the direct cause of death in corona patients is often the "cytokine storm".
    I would expect that in older people with a weak immune system the storm will not occur and most of the victims will be young people, as was the case with the Spanish flu.
    I would appreciate it if you could clarify this point.
    Thanks !

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